The Jacksonville Port Authority is now one of Florida’s seaports deep enough to accept larger post-Panamax vessels.
JaxPort, federal, state and city representatives gathered May 23 to cut the ribbon and watch as a dredge claw removed the final scoop of material from the St. Johns River in a four-year, $420 million harbor deepening project.
According to JaxPort, the work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the 11-mile federal shipping channel in the St. Johns River from a depth of 40 feet to 47 feet will allow the port to attract larger Asian cargo carriers.
The U.S. Army Corps deepened the channel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Blount Island Marine Terminal east of the Dames Point bridge, although Congress authorized dredging an additional 2 miles.
JaxPort CEO Eric Green and SSA Atlantic Vice President of Florida Operations Frank McBride, a Blount Island terminal operator, announced $100 million in berth improvements will be completed in spring 2023 to accommodate two post-Panamax ships simultaneously.
From the podium, Green said “it’s quite a day.”
“Anchored by harbor deepening, well over half a billion dollars in infrastructure improvements have been recently completed or are currently underway to improve our container capabilities at Blount Island,” Green said in a news release.
“With the support of our federal, state, and local partners, JAXPORT is open for business and ready to serve the needs of our customers while creating local jobs here in our community.”
JaxPort says the project will create or protect 15,000 jobs in trucking, warehousing and distribution sectors.
“Forty-seven feet of water positions Jacksonville among the deepest ports on the East Coast, further enhancing the capabilities of the SSA JCT as an international cargo gateway,” McBride said.
A feasibility study for the project started in 2005, which Green noted May 23 was his first year employed by JaxPort.
In the news release, port officials said Blount Island berth improvements and new all-electric cranes are part of more than $70 million in terminal enhancements funded by SSA and a grant from the U.S. Maritime Administration also are underway.
The news release says that investment would expand container capacity at the SSA Jacksonville Container Terminal.
SSA plans to complete three of seven construction phases by 2023, which includes about 31 acres of newly paved and improved operating area.
The total project of about 93 acres will be completed by the end of 2024, allowing the SSA JCT to accommodate 500,000 containers annually, according to the news release.
JaxPort said in February 2020 that the federal government, state of Florida, JaxPort and SSA Atlantic had contributed or pledged a combined more than $394 million for the dredging.
City Council approved a $70 million city grant contribution and a $40 million bridge loan in August 2020.
According to the port and U.S. Army Corps, the project was completed early under the previously estimated $484 million budget. The harbor deepening was expected to be completed in October.
“As with all Corps projects, this mammoth civil works effort was undertaken to upgrade the nation’s waterways and ports, to strengthen supply chains and promote economic growth while protecting the environment,” USACE Jacksonville District Commander and Col. James Booth said in the release.
“As a result of this team effort, we expect Jacksonville harbor will grow and prosper as a preferred destination and point of departure for the largest, most cost-effective commercial fleets of the mid-21st century.”
JaxPort joins Port Canaveral and Port Miami that can support post-Panamax size ships.
The Georgia Port Authority completed its Savannah Harbor Deepening Project in March, according to a report by the Savannah Morning News.
The JaxPort dredging was not without detractors.
In May 2020, a federal judge rejected arguments made in a lawsuit by the St. Johns Riverkeeper that said deepening the channel would impact wetlands and the increase in salinity would harm ecosystems.
The Riverkeeper argued that under the U.S. Army Corps’ assessment, the project will increase water levels up to 8.4 inches in some areas during 100-year storm events.